Updated Mon, Oct 14, 2013 5:30 pm
Athens Public Transit is offering free rides on city buses through Oct. 24 to attract new riders and show off improvements to the public transit system.
The promotion is called #Free4A11 to encourage topic tracking on social media. Rides were made free for 11 days, which started on Monday. Athens Public Transit Transportation Services Manager Michael Lachman said the 11 days fit nicely between OU Homecoming and the Halloween Block Party.
“The event is also a way to promote awareness of transit as a vital part of our community,” Lachman said. “In the past 50 years, public transportation — particularly in rural areas — took a black eye in the popular imagination: slow, unreliable, intended only as a mode of last resort for the very poor, the elderly, and the infirm. Economic recession, rising fuel prices, congested roads, and a growing desire on the part of young people to limit their carbon footprints is transforming that image today: promotional events like this help the process along, causing people to notice a service that may have been off their radar up to now.
The Athens Public Transit System implemented several changes at the end of August. Such improvements include lower fares and passes; straighter and faster trips through town; additional routes; high-frequency routes to better serve morning commuters; fixed bus stops; relocation of the main connecting stop to Mulberry Street (in front of Baker University Center); allowing children 10 and under to ride free; extending routes by one hour in the evenings; and additional runs on Saturday on the west side of Athens and The Plains.
Lachman said the improvements have been popular and that the transit system saw a 6 percent increase in ridership in September 2013 compared to 2012.
“And the revamping continues — we're working on purchasing a series of bus shelters to install later this year, and hope to have small schedules posted at each of our stops soon as well. It's all a work in progress and there are still bugs, but so far I think the changes are working,” Lachman said.
Lachman said providing transportation to those that need it most remains the foundation of Athens Public Transit’s mission, but that he realizes that everyone benefits when transit has widespread appeal.
“It can even serve as a forum where people from very different corners of our community come together and get to know each other,” he said. “I ride regularly, and frequently find myself in fascinating conversation with a perfect stranger. I hope to see the day when APT is generally regarded as a basic public service on par with water, sewer, police, fire, etc. If Athenians embrace it, I think it has the potential to shape the development of our town in positive ways for years to come.